Three-quarters of pupils in some English regions miss out on history

29th October 2010 at 01:00
'Gulf' warning as twice as many children in certain areas take the GCSE as others elsewhere

More than three-quarters of pupils in some parts of England are not studying history after the age of 14, according to Government figures which show huge a divide in take-up at key stage 4.

The statistics, revealed in a parliamentary question last week, also show that twice as many children in some regions are taking history GCSE as others living elsewhere.

Academics and teachers have warned of a widening gulf between schools that promote the subject and those that deter pupils from it if they are not likely to get top grades.

Just 16 per cent of pupils in Knowsley, Merseyside, were entered for the GCSE last summer - the lowest rate in England. Other local authorities with very few history pupils were Leicestershire (17 per cent), Newham (18 per cent), North East Lincolnshire (18 per cent) and Manchester (19 per cent).

Conversely, in some local authorities, almost half of all pupils study GCSE history - 47 per cent of pupils in Wokingham, Berkshire, were entered for the exam last summer. Other councils with high levels were Bracknell Forest (46 per cent), Richmond Upon Thames (45 per cent) and the Isle of Wight (40 per cent).

Last summer, 310 of the 3,939 secondaries saw no pupil reach the end of KS4 with a history GCSE at grade A* to C. Some 269 secondaries do not offer the subject at all.

Richard Harris, a former history teacher and now a researcher on the subject at Southampton University's School of Education, said: "It's clear that a two-tier system is developing at key stage 3 - in schools with a strong curriculum, teaching and leadership there is high uptake.

"Our attitude towards history is opposite to that of most other European countries, where it is a compulsory subject in schools."

The regional disparity continues at A-level. Areas with high take-up of the subject are Gateshead (18 per cent), Trafford and East Riding (22 per cent), Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire (21 per cent) and Plymouth (20 per cent).

In Knowsley just 4.3 per cent of pupils study history at A-level, with only a 7.1 per cent take-up in Portsmouth, 6.6 per cent in St Helens and 5.6 per cent in Leicester.

The Historical Association has long said that poorer pupils are most likely to be deterred from studying history after the age of 14. Just 18 per cent of those eligible for free school meals took the GCSE last summer, compared to 32 per cent of those who do not get the benefit.

"These statistics show there are some schools not allowing children to take history and asking them to take subjects which will carry more weight on league tables," Rebecca Sullivan, chief executive of the Historical Association, said.

GCSE History

Fewer take it but more pass

The number of pupils taking GCSE history has fallen from 35.7 per cent in 1997 to 29.9 per cent in 2009. Rates at selective schools have stayed at 53 per cent, and independent schools still have half of all pupils studying the subject at GCSE level.

However, more pupils are passing GCSE history than ever before. A total of 64 per cent of comprehensive school pupils got A* to C in 2009, up from 52 per cent in 1997. This compares to 96 per cent of pupils in selective schools - up 5 per cent since 1997 - and 93 per cent of pupils in independent schools.

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